San Diego Local Hikes

If you look through this blog, you might get the impression that I spend all of my time hiking in spectacular places. While I do spend a decent chunk of time in relatively far-flung locales, climbing hills, snapping shots, and otherwise pummeling my knees and hamstrings into submission, these places are simply too far away to visit all of the time. Most of the more remarkable local hikes in San Diego and Los Angeles require a minimum of one hour’s driving time. I’m lucky if I can swing that once per week, given my full schedule and the paltry sums that I can pour in my gas tank.

However, I still manage to get in 3-5 hikes per week, with one of those hikes typically being somewhere far afield. The other 2-4 typically occur within 20 miles of my home. Not only are these hikes closer and more convenient, but, because of their convenience, these hikes comprise a considerable fraction of my overall time spent hiking. It’s an easy and effective way to keep my mileage and conditioning up, not to mention my spirits when I start feeling stressed.

Consider this week:
Tuesday, 4/17: Lake Calavera Preserve, Batiquitos Lagoon (6.4 Miles)
Thursday, 4/19: Penasquitos Canyon (12)
Friday, 4/20: Hosp Grove (1.5)
Saturday, 4/21: Big Laguna Trail (10)
Sunday, 4/22: Daley Ranch, Engelmann Oak Loop or BeachWalk – (5.1) or (6)

Of the six hikes above, only one (Big Laguna Trail) requires a drive of more than 20 miles. In other words, 25 of the 35 miles I will hike this week are within a half hour’s drive. It is therefore important not to ignore the places where I do the bulk of my hiking.

Finally, each one of these hikes has similar pros and cons. They all have the benefit of being close, convenient, and enjoyable. Likewise, they all have the detriment of being close to noise and population centers, displaying some kind of environmental degradation, and being very crowded. Each summary points out specific highlights, but mostly omits these commonalities to avoid me redundantly bitching about how crowded the trails are.

Note: I’ll have pics for Hosp and Calavera soon.

1. Hosp Grove

Distance: 1.4-1.8 Miles
Elevation Gained: 160 Feet
Difficulty: Easy

Hosp Grove is a close, and therefore convenient local hike for me. Since it is short, it also has the advantage of being the hike most likely to be tucked into a free hour. I often do this hike before or after work, or when I need to get out and stretch my legs.

The hike features a network of trails throughout two groves of eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus, which was imported from Australia to California by developers looking for a cheap and abundant source of timber, has evolved into a feral tree that thrives in California, particularly in the north. Although it is not an unpleasant species, emitting a particularly appealing scent, the tree is considered a pest. However, the groves at Hosp provide shade, a habitat for birds, and, occasionally, a sense of solitude when the trail turns away from the road and the shopping mall. Also, this trail has moments of good views, featuring the Buena Vista Lagoon and Palomar and Agua Tibia Mountains.

2. Lake Calavera Preserve

Distance: 3 Miles
Elevation Gained:
Difficulty: Easy

Lake Calavera and Calavera Hill sit within a small preserve on the extreme northern end of Carlsbad, which is bounded by the 78 freeway. The preserve includes an extensive, perhaps overly so, network of trails, and is easily accessible from multiple points.

The most striking feature here is Calavera Hill, a volcanic plug dome that is all that remains of the most recent significant volcanic activity in San Diego County, which occurred some 20+ million years ago. The volcano eroded long ago, but the plug, being made of harder volcanic rock, remains. Climbing Calavera presents a brief, but strenuous uphill chug up slippery slopes. However, the view on the top, which includes the ocean, lagoons, Palomar Mountain, plus San Jacinto and San Gorgonio to the north, is excellent, especially in relation to how little effort you have to expend to achieve it.

Other features include the lake, which is actually a man-made resevoir, a lovely section of marshy riparian vegetation, a grove of volunteer palm trees, and a lot of chaparral, which makes the place smell lovely.

One major drawback is that this preserve has been heavily abused in the past by off-road enthusiasts. There’s a lot of habitat rehab going on, and with all of the unofficial trails leading off to nowhere or to barricades, getting around can be confusing the first couple of visits.

3. Batiquitos Lagoon

Distance: 3 Miles
Elevation Gained: Negligible
Difficulty: Easy

Kelly introduced me to Batiquitos when we first started dating. She took me here to catch a sunset right before I met her mother (officially). The trail skirts the lagoon, which is one of several protected marshlands that represent 5% of the original marshlands that used to grace San Diego County. The rest have been developed.

The trail is wide, well-maintained, and heavily traveled. You are guaranteed to see dog-walkers, runners, the mommy brigade doing stroller-chariot races, and, occasionally and most enjoyably, seniors taking a leisurely stroll. The trail passes into and out of eucalyptus groves, but always keeps the lagoon in view. The drawback is that the trail also keeps the I-5, La Costa Boulevard, and a golf course in sight, so don’t come here expecting solitude and pristine wilderness conditions. Still, it’s a great place for bird-watching and for determining the ever-important Dog-of-the-Day award.

4. San Elijo Lagoon

Distance: 1.9-4.0 Miles
Elevation Gained: Negligible
Difficulty: Easy

San Elijon Lagoon is a new hike for me, and it’s one that I still need to explore with more thoroughness. It suffers and benefits from some of the same qualities that Batiquitos offers – easy access, popular, close to the highway, developed, beautiful lagoon. It’s not quite as crowded as Batiquitos since the trail isn’t as well developed, and the starting points are a little more obscure. The trails are also single track, and occasionally somewhat rough or even flooded, which also differs from the immaculately maintained trails at Batiquitos.

But so much for comparisons. There’s some great stuff here: dense riparian growth, gorgeous wildflower displays, close proximity to the lagoon and marsh, and lots of different trail choices that allow variability in distance.

I’m looking forward to it, even though I will decry the fact that the trail passes underneath I-5. As an information sign points out, 95% of the marshlands in San Diego have disappeared due to development. The I-5, while crucial and indisputably necessary, is prime example that unpleasantly juxtaposes itself against one of the few remaining examples of southern California wetlands.

Did I say I wouldn’t complain about overuse and crowding? Whups.

5. Beach Walk, Oceanside

Distance: 4-6 Miles
Elevation Gained: Negligible
Difficulty: Easy

I have the luxury of living a few hundred yards from the beach. This beach, which stretches in a more or less unbroken line from Oceanside Pier to South Carlsbad Beach, gives me a great opportunity to get a hike in without even getting into the car.

Yeah, yeah. I know. A hike on the beach? There’s no trail. Houses are in site from start to finish. When the tide is in, I even have to walk on the streets for a brief stretch. However, according to the International Hiker’s Association of Hiking Rules, Regulations, and Stipulations (IHAHRRS), a hike is a hike if Scott Turner says it’s a hike.

Actually, no. To me, a hike is a hike if you have to, a. walk on an unpaved surface for a significant portion, b. travel through a relatively undeveloped area (yes, the point where the ocean meets the land counts), and c. walk more than a mile. This hike meets all three criteria.

But do I need to explain myself when this hike is regularly more between four and six miles? Nope. It’s particularly good to do this hike when the tide is out since you can walk far out into areas normally covered by surf, and the entire walk is accessible without having to go on the street.

Of course, the main perk is being able to walk along the ocean for long stretches. There are good views of the Oceanside Pier, the village of Carlsbad, and the Carlsbad power plant, which Kelly has dubbed “The Cloud Factory.” Sure, these are all man-made features and pale in comparison to a far-ranging view of the Peninsular Ranges, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Added bonus: Kelly and I do this together all the time, so this hike has that particularly lovely association.

6. Torrey Pines

Distance: 2-9 Miles
Elevation Gained: 400 Feet
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

I recently blogged about this experience, so there isn’t much more to say about it. It’s close to Penasquitos, which I’ll write about shortly, and it’s also close to where Kelly teaches yoga (if you’re not reading Kelly’s blog, you really ought to because it probably means you hate puppies and grandmothers). It gives me the opportunity to take a yoga class and catch a hike, or vice versa.

If you’ve never practiced yoga in conjunction with hiking, I highly recommend you try it. Yoga gives you a chance to stretch and release stress in the muscles and joints that receive the most wear-and-tear – knees, ankles, calves, thighs, butt, and hips – and the mental peace that you achieve carries over and intensifies whatever you experience on the hike – or, again, vice versa (ten yard penalty for hyphen abuse, Scott). Great habit to get into if you can. Hopefully, Kelly and I (well, probably just Kelly since I think downward facing dog means that it’s time to call Dog-of-the-Day) can develop a brief yoga practice that can be done mid- or post-hike, or even lead a few group hikes/yoga practices in the not-so-distant future. (Nudge, nudge, baby).

Anyway, Torrey Pines is Torrey Pines, and if you don’t know about it, then you probably aren’t the sort of person who hikes in San Diego or reads blogs about hiking. I’m guessing you probably also bring binoculars to nude beaches, but since I saw a naked man with binoculars on the nude beach, I suppose my assumption is incorrect. Please refer to the above linked blog to see my opinions of its merits and disadvantages, or visit the park’s site for more information than I have time or inclination to provide here.

Or feel perfectly free to ignore my opinion. I do it all the time.

7. Penasquitos Canyon

Distance: 11-12 Miles
Elevation Gained: 250 Feet
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Not only is this hike relatively close, it also happens to be one of the absolute best hikes in all of San Diego County. While the usual cons apply here due to the surrounding hills being developed into houses that cost way too much money as well as close proximities of busy roads, this trail manages to not only transcend these negative aspects but to also enter the realm of the truly beautiful.

This hike, taken from end to end and back (there are parking lots off of Black Mountain Road in Rancho Penasquitos and Sorrento Valley Road in Sorrento Valley) totals twelve miles. However, those twelve miles are relatively flat and straightforward. You have the option of walking on well-tread double-track (although you have to share with the mountain bikers) or on intermittent single-track that parallels the double-track trail. Furthermore, the trails run on the north and south side of Penasquitos Creek, so there are numerous options if you want to vary the trail, which I do every time. Note: ALWAYS take the single-track trails when they’re available. Trust me.

I’ve written in detail about it in a separate blog, so I won’t get into to much detail here. However, the principal greatness of this trail comes in the eastern half when the single-track option appears and plunges into a dense, riparian wilderness that runs along the creek. For 2.5 miles, you walk through a lush, green riparian jungle that calls to mind similar terrain in a place like Florida. It’s a far cry from the typical sage and chamise scene that so often graces the local hills. Wildlife and birdlife abound, and there are times when, despite the proximity to the northern suburbs, you will forget that you are anywhere but paradise.

I absolutely love this trail, and I’m glad it is so convenient. Great mileage, great workout, great scenery, and it’s free to get in. Love it.

April: 92.7 Miles
Year-to-Date:  449 Miles

One Reply to “San Diego Local Hikes”

  1. Well written! I know you love and thrive in the bigger 10-20+ mile hikes, but it is fun having the shorter options that are right in our neighborhood. And you’re totally right – we need to set up a Torrey Pines Hike/Yoga at the Beach day. See if anyone is interested in joining us. How could they not? We’re delightful!

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